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Sensemaker: Appeasement 101

Sensemaker: Appeasement 101

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Conservatives in London said there would be a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson this evening, and that he would step down as prime minister if he lost (more in Matt d’Ancona’s column).
  • More than 50 people died in a “satanic” attack on a Catholic church in Nigeria’s Ondo province.
  • Queen Elizabeth II celebrated 70 years on the throne with street parties and a concert.
  • A husky sled dog, Leon, who went missing during this year’s Iditarod race across Alaska, turned up safe and well three months later and 150 miles away.

Appeasement 101 

Johnson hoped the war in Ukraine might distract attention at home from Partygate. It has not turned out that way, but the war grinds on. Its outcome depends to a large extent on the unity and resolve of Ukraine’s allies, and Kyiv fears they are eroding. 

France in particular wants the world to take account of Putin’s state of mind. On Saturday Emmanuel Macron said it was vital not to “humiliate” Russia so an “exit ramp” could be built when the fighting stops. Ukraine’s foreign minister said it was France that Macron was in danger of humiliating.

This is not the first time Macron has used the “build an off-ramp” formulation. He tried it last month and it’s safe to assume he feels he’s bringing expert knowledge to bear: he says he’s had more than 100 hours’ worth of phone conversations with Putin since December.

Nor is he alone. Last month…

  • Germany’s Chancellor Scholz and Italy’s Prime Minister Draghi prioritised talks and a ceasefire over driving Russian forces from Ukraine.
  • Henry Kissinger told Davos Kyiv needed, in effect, to trade land for peace and start negotiations before the war created “upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome”.
  • The NYT provoked fury in Kyiv with an editorial saying Ukraine would have to make “painful territorial decisions” and accept limits to the amount of arms, money and political support the US and Nato could provide.

And on Saturday the NYT’s Ross Douthat came to his editorial board’s defence with a column arguing that Ukraine needed to be pushed “toward its most realistic rather than its most ambitious military strategy”.

The case for talk rests on the urgent need to limit bloodshed and the possibility that the longer the fighting continues the more Putin will change the facts on the ground in his favour, so that he will be negotiating from strength. 

For Macron, there’s also a peculiar conviction that he and France have a special role as Europe’s peace-brokers du jour. But he’s forgetting three clear and present realities, and the lessons of history.

The realities, as set out recently by Anne Applebaum in the Atlantic, are that

  • there’s no evidence Putin wants a ceasefire;
  • there’s no evidence he would stick to the terms of a ceasefire deal even if he could be persuaded to sign one; and
  • no Ukrainian leader could stay in power having signed away part of the country to Putin’s Russia. 

The history lessons can be plucked from any century, but especially this one:

  • Unpunished militarily for redrawing international borders in 2008 (Georgia) and 2014 (Crimea, Ukraine), Putin became a repeat offender. Experience suggests if not stopped now his next target will be Transnistria. 
  • Conversely, experience shows that if confronted with sufficient military force the Russian army will retreat, as it did in Afghanistan in 1989, and as it has in Kyiv, Kharkiv and now Sievierodonetsk and Kherson in 2022.
  • Munich, 1938.

The threat posed by Russia looks complex and terrifying to some European countries, but crystal clear to others (see Culture, below) – and, so far, to the US Congress. Its bipartisan appropriation of $57 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine since February dwarfs aid from western Europe and recalls Themistocles. Twenty-five centuries ago, he saw Persia’s armies as an existential threat and persuaded his peers to spend the proceeds of a huge silver strike on triremes, which enabled him to defeat Xerxes at Salamis and confirm for anyone in doubt that democracies could fight. 

Macron seems to have missed the point that the battle being fought now in eastern Ukraine is the Salamis of the 21st Century. 


The Queen deserves a better final PM than Johnson

Matthew d’Ancona

In this evening’s confidence vote, Tory MPs have a chance to show they truly understand their duty to the nation, as well as to their party


Is ESG toast?
ESG investing – investing with an emphasis on environmental, social and governance factors – has been taken over by bureaucrats and marketing people and “reduced to a state of meaninglessness,” says Desiree Fixler, formerly of the German DWS asset manager. Why should we care? Because Fixler is the whistleblower whose accusations of greenwashing led to a first-of-its-kind police raid on DWS’s Frankfurt office at the end of last month. The Frankfurt offices of Deutsche Bank, which owns DWS, were also raided. If greenwashing becomes a regularly-prosecuted crime, a lot of people are going to be in the dock. The FT has an interview with Fixler.  


Baltic brass
Estonia’s formidable prime minister, Kaja Kallas, has sacked nearly half her cabinet because she says they belong to a party that doesn’t share her country’s “core values”. Translation: they haven’t been tough enough on Russia. The party in question, the Centre party, signed a cooperation protocol with Putin’s United Russia party in 2004 and even though its leaders say the document is meaningless they took two weeks to tear it up and formally cut ties with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. Kallas has led calls for a full European boycott of Russian oil and gas and has boosted Estonia’s per capita defence spending to Nato’s second-highest after the US, but is now dependent on two other parties to stay in power.


Free public transport
What do Luxembourg, Malta, Hasselt, Tallinn and Dunkirk have in common? They all offer, or have offered, or promise to offer free use of their public transport systems, at least to residents. They all have another thing in common: they are small (Hasselt is a medium-sized Belgian municipality with a population of 71,000). Deutsche Welle has nonetheless given them a close-up as harbingers of a new trend that – if it actually became a trend – could do more than a lot of infrastructure-building to get commuters out of cars and off dependency on Russian energy. One imagines it will be some time before UK taxpayers consent to a 100 per cent subsidy for users of London’s new £19 billion Elizabeth Line.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Cancer progress
Oncologists are inching ever closer to finding cures, or at least less invasive treatments, for cancer. The star this week: monoclonal antibody therapy. In an “unheard of” result for a cancer trial, 18 patients saw their rectal cancer vanish. The drug therapy targets cancer cells directly by alerting the immune system to their location, doing more damage to cancer cells and less to non-cancerous ones, and reducing side effects. To note: this was a very small trial. Even at a small scale, the team struggled to find funding since patients had to  join the trial when standard treatment options like surgery could have cured them. If the drug didn’t work, the patients’ cancers could have become uncurable. AstraZeneca and Daiichi Sankyo have also announced promising results in a (larger) trial targeting a protein that increases tumour growth in later-stage breast cancer patients. Daiichi’s global head of oncology development said “this is not only a breakthrough, it is practice-changing”. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Days off for heat
There are only a few weeks until schools let out for summer in the US, but heatwaves have forced children in Baltimore and Philadelphia out of classrooms early. According to the WaPo, many of the affected schools have old buildings ill-equipped to deal with high summer temperatures. Most don’t have air conditioning, but as climate change has progressed it’s become a necessity. Extreme heat is impacting services and safety for people both young and old in the US. Last month three elderly women in Chicago died in their apartments at a senior living facility after several days of unusually warm weather. The city has rules to make sure rental properties are kept warm from mid September to early June, but few to keep people cool in hot weather. Rules for keeping old people’s homes cool only kick in when outside temperatures hit 38C.

The week ahead


6/6 – Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas receives Policy Exchange Grotius Prize; Treasury Committee to question chancellor Rishi Sunak on cost of living support package; four-day work week pilot begins for 3,000 employees; 78th anniversary of D-Day landings, 7/6 –  David Frost, former Brexit minister, gives evidence to public accounts committee on international treaties; Cop26 president Alok Sharma speaks at CBI’s net zero conference; ‘March on the Met’ protest in memory of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, 8/6 – E.ON chief executive Michael Lewis speaks at environmental audit committee; OECD publishes economic outlook report, 9/6 – High Court issues judgement on Tommy Robinson over Jamal Hijazi video; prime minister Boris Johnson expected to announce plans to let housing association tenants buy their flats, 10/6 – Kite festival begins at Kirtlington Park, Oxford; Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall attend Royal Cornwall show, 11/6 – London Fashion week begins


6/6 – UNFCCC Climate Change Conference starts in Bonn; International Atomic Energy Agency governors meet in Vienna; Pentecost/Whitsun public holiday; ninth summit of the Americas begins in Los Angeles, 7/6 – Nato to host press event discussing Exercise Ramstein Legacy missile defence exercises, 8/6 – World Ocean Day; Tribeca Film Festival opens in New York; corruption trial of formerFifa officials Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini starts in Switzerland; European parliament to debate Ukraine and global threat to abortion rights, 9/6 – United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) launches annual report; court hearing for Buffalo shooter on charges of first-degree murder; SpaceX Cargo Dragon launches from Florida, 10/6 – Japan border reopened for tour groups; International Economic Forum on Africa held in Paris; Russian central bank interest rate announcement, 12/6 – First round of legislative elections in France; 75th Annual Tony Awards

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

With additional reporting by Phoebe Davis and Ella Hill.

Photographs Getty Images

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